Adventures in Genealogy

I have heard it said "Genealogy is the greatest puzzle, the greatest detective game in the world." I love it! I remember as a young boy, standing outdoors on the farm with my father, asking him about his ancestors and who they were and where they came from. And being thrilled by his story of a long and dangerous ocean voyage from Ireland on a sailing ship long, long ago.

In my early 20s, I actually took a genealogy class while I lived in Calgary. This led me to interview my parents, my mother's parents, aunts, uncles and older cousins and record what they said. On my mother's side of the family, information was readily available, as her parents were still alive and that family had kept in close touch with their extended family, including the Wright relatives back in England.

The big puzzle for me was the Buchanans and Watsons - Dad's people. Dad's parents had come to Alberta from Manitoba when he was little, and the few relatives we had nearby had nearly all died. Those surviving had little information to offer. So I decided to look elsewhere. Armed with a notepad and a binder of Family Group sheets, I hitch-hiked from Calgary, Alberta to Neepawa, Manitoba in 1962. (Yes, those were safer times. I certainly wouldn't recommend it now.) I remember that one couple that picked me up was so intrigued by my quest that they drove an hour out of their way to help me reach my destination. When I finally arrived at Neepawa, I went to the local newspaper and asked to see some obituaries in their archives. The people were very helpful. They suggested I contact Mervyn Buchanan, the manager of the Windsor Salt plant. Not having any better leads, I visited Merv. He and his wife gave me such a warm welcome that I felt like I had come home after a long absence. They asked me to stay with their family, and drove me to visit relatives in Riding Mountain, Birnie, and various places. While Merv was at work, I sought out relatives in Neepawa to interview. I returned home to Calgary with more information than I dared to hope for.

Over the next two years I wrote to anyone who had been recommended by anyone as a source of family history information. Some failed to answer, but others referred me to people who knew more than themselves. Then, other pressing commitments took me away from genealogy for a few years. Does the term "binge genealogist" make any sense to you? I think it describes me too well.

About 1977 my work took me to High Prairie, Alberta. A family there asked me "Are you related to Gordon Buchanan, who owns the sawmill in town?" I said "It's possible, but probably not." They agreed, "Yes, he is originally from Manitoba." I replied "My father was born in Manitoba, so maybe we are related." After work, I rang Gordon's doorbell and waited apprehensively. I explained to the lady who answered that my name was Bill Buchanan, and I wanted to talk to Gordon about family history. She turned and said "Gordon, why don't you get your Buchanan Family Tree book?" This really got my attention! I had never heard of any such book. Gordon showed where he was in the book and I showed him where I was. We were related! This book was a colossal amount of work on the part of its compilers and contributors. My quest for the next few months was to get a copy of the BFT book. The compilers, Lorne and Doris Buchanan, had moved from Neepawa and no one seemed to know where they were. My attempts to find a copy of the book for sale were unsuccessful. Then, unexpectedly a thick envelope arrived in the mail from Annie B. McMane. It was her copy of the book! She explained that she was living with her daughter, and could always use her daughter's copy. Not long after, a similar package arrived from Leona Murphy. These wonderful people! I can't thank them enough! I wrote a family history summary and made photocopies for my closest relatives, and sent copies back to Annie and Leona.

Some years later I acquired genealogy software and entered the BFT information, along with other information I had gathered. I posted a message on an Internet forum saying that I had put the BFT information into electronic form. This resulted in contacts by various people asking for the information, which I was happy to provide. Suzanne Schaller started an Andrew-Buchanan listserv, which has made it easier to share information. Other interested relatives have found me through my submissions to the Ancestral File.

A few years ago I decided to create a personal web site for a few of my interests. With time, this narrowed its focus to genealogy and expanded to include historical family photos. Along with her work on the Manitoba newspaper archives, Darlene Perrett was a big help in this area. Other than "word of mouth" I have found the web site to be the most effective way of helping people to find me. Any week that a "lost" relative sends me an email is automatically a good week for me.

In 2002, Suzanne Schaller suggested that the Buchanan family tree project was too big for any one person to update. Since she is descended from William Buchanan, she proposed to focus her energies on that part of the family tree. Since I am descended from John Buchanan, I volunteered to help update that part of the family tree. This led me to seek out the "lost" Hamilton, Keating, and McGillivray descendants.

I find the Internet phone directories a handy tool, and they really came through for me in the cases of the Hamiltons and McGillivrays. I knew the Hamiltons had lived around Tisdale, Saskatchewan. None are currently listed there, so I started going through the married names of the daughters and found a Stella Woolsey in the Tisdale area. Stella explained that her deceased husband Harvey was from a different branch of the Woolseys, and suggested that I contact Norma Kabanuck, who gave me some information and suggested that I contact Roy Woolsey. Roy was a goldmine of information and old pictures. Roy suggested that I contact Al Hamilton. Then Teresa Fouillard contacted me, and she has been an on-going source of Hamilton info. The story of finding the McGillivrays was similar. I used the Internet directories to find Lorraine Kowblick, who put me in touch with Glen Thorpe, who sent me a copy of the McGillivray Family Tree book that he compiled in the late 1990s.

My attempts at finding the descendants of John Keating and Margaret Buchanan always seemed to come up empty. Then Donna Phillips forwarded a message to me from George Johnson, and things opened up. George's wife is a Keating, and he had lots of Keating information.

Visits to some of the George Watson descendants in the summer of 2003 led me to find the George Watson family in the 1900 census of Raber, Chippewa county, Michigan, but I could not find the descendants of his son, George Allan Watson. They disappered in the 1930s and all attempts to find them were unsuccessful. Then I received an email from Theresa Adams in Alaska, that opened a door to this family. Her brother's children had found the web site and told her about it.

When I found the family of James Watson senior in the 1851/52 census, I felt that we had enough information to look for his parents in the Old Scottish Parish Records. I think we have found them , but there is a need for further research.

The adventure continues ...

Bill Buchanan